Emergent Design

May 19, 2007

While catching up on some reading this morning two seemingly dissimilar topics are calling for similar actions. On a Jay Cross nanocast at Learning Light, Mark Oehlert talked about the lack of discussion around the design of learning in the face of (nearly) daily emerging technologies. He thinks we need to think about destroying how we think about design now – from many perspectives and create design. Kick status quo in the ass is what I’m hearing.

The other item was Steve Barth’s Emergence in Times of Emergency. It’s about the need for governments (‘the system’) to design for emergence in times of emergency vs. reorganizing post-emergency to create yet another massive bureaucracy (the status quo). He writes about ‘learned helplessness’ that leads us to believe ‘the system’ will take care of us. [is this like the organization who feels the training department will take care of a problem that may not be a problem training can even address?]. His contrast between system failure and ‘bystander success’ (successful reactions in terms of creating teams to address the emergency) made me think of status-quo ‘training.’ When faced with an emergency in our organizations do we respond with the status quo response and then fix it later for the next emergency? How can we design for emergence? I guess what I’m learning from reading both of these posts is that we are at a point in time where we need to take charge of emergent design.

I can relate this to a past ‘training’ situation where I failed miserably. Six weeks before a ‘training’ event I had no hand in developing or even knowledge of, I was asked by a senior manager to ”set up’ the event. This meant getting a room booked and making sure there was food and equipment available. Oh, yeah and collect all the PowerPoint presentations and get the attendees names in the LMS. Maybe help with travel arrangements. Coordinator of Suckfest right? It wasn’t training at all but an info-session on what is expected in the event of deployment due to a weather catastrophe (these were property claims adjusters). I didn’t want any part of it.

As I watched endless presentations about forms and expense accounts (all while making sure the coffee was properly refreshed) I wanted to cry. Here was a perfect opportunity to have designed a process for a potential catastrophe ‘teaching how to use tools to make the response happen so that the company would excel and so that adjusters could communicate with each other when emotionally spent. So my session would’ve been about access to and how to use the tools you can use to self-organize and react to the unknowns you’ll likely face. “The system” tiptoed up behind me and kicked my ass. How will you design so you can handle an organizational emergency? Is the money better spent on change management? Will you be part of the status quo or will you be Johnny- (or Jane)-on-the-spot? Coordinator of Kick-ass Design. Now that’s a title.

  • http://www.kwhobbes.edublogs.org/ Kelly Christopherson

    I agree that we need to begin to do more planning before than after. We have the ability to organize and prepare but, in my experience, we are complacent until something happens and then react to what is going on. Often, our systems are not creative nor built for creativity but are built to be reactionary. As leaders, we sometimes miss opportunities, not because we don’t want to act but we sometimes get lulled by the system. There will be other opportunities and I’m sure that when they come along, you won’t just worry about coffee!

  • http://www.kwhobbes.edublogs.org Kelly Christopherson

    I agree that we need to begin to do more planning before than after. We have the ability to organize and prepare but, in my experience, we are complacent until something happens and then react to what is going on. Often, our systems are not creative nor built for creativity but are built to be reactionary. As leaders, we sometimes miss opportunities, not because we don’t want to act but we sometimes get lulled by the system. There will be other opportunities and I’m sure that when they come along, you won’t just worry about coffee!

  • http://reflexions.typepad.com Steve Barth

    Thanks for the plug, but a lot of what you liked was from Dave Pollard’s original post, which kicked me in the …first place. And I agree with you that a government agency like FEMA is just the elephant in the room, while almost any organization has the twin curses of failing to prepare for crisis while preventing individuals from improvising solutions to problems as they come up.
    But then I got you the part about your training sessions and it made me think about how some of the worst workshops or presentations I ever gave were the ones where I did the most preparation and practice. On the other hand, the best were cases where I was either asked to talk about something different at the last minute or once when I had such a bad cold I couldn’t talk at all. In each of those times, the participants did all the work and came up with much more than I ever would have “taught” them.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Thank you Steve, yes I guess did forget to credit Dave Pollard’s original post which led me to you : (
    Here it is:
    http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2007/05/18.html#a1868
    I wonder what others think of the prepared vs. spontaneous presentations. I’ve had it work both ways. A veteran stand-up trainer use to say there is “the presentation you planned to give, the presentation you gave, and the presentation you wished you gave.” We are our own worst critics sometimes.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Thank you Steve, yes I guess did forget to credit Dave Pollard’s original post which led me to you : (
    Here it is:
    http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2007/05/18.html#a1868
    I wonder what others think of the prepared vs. spontaneous presentations. I’ve had it work both ways. A veteran stand-up trainer use to say there is “the presentation you planned to give, the presentation you gave, and the presentation you wished you gave.” We are our own worst critics sometimes.

  • http://reflexions.typepad.com/ Steve Barth

    Storytelling guru Steve Denning has a thing similar to your trainer’s motto. He says there’s the story you tell, the story someone hears, and then the story someone tells him/herself, based on what they learned from your story.

  • http://reflexions.typepad.com Steve Barth

    Storytelling guru Steve Denning has a thing similar to your trainer’s motto. He says there’s the story you tell, the story someone hears, and then the story someone tells him/herself, based on what they learned from your story.

  • Pingback: Design Shouldn’t Always Mean Instructional Design | Tom Werner()

  • http://reflexions.typepad.com/ Steve Barth

    Thanks for the plug, but a lot of what you liked was from Dave Pollard's original post, which kicked me in the …first place. And I agree with you that a government agency like FEMA is just the elephant in the room, while almost any organization has the twin curses of failing to prepare for crisis while preventing individuals from improvising solutions to problems as they come up.
    But then I got you the part about your training sessions and it made me think about how some of the worst workshops or presentations I ever gave were the ones where I did the most preparation and practice. On the other hand, the best were cases where I was either asked to talk about something different at the last minute or once when I had such a bad cold I couldn’t talk at all. In each of those times, the participants did all the work and came up with much more than I ever would have “taught” them.

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